Python Surgery

Python Surgery

I once assisted in an unanaesthetized minor surgery on a 14-foot reticulated python.

This little event happened at one of the jobs I’ve loved most in my life, working for the NC Museum of Life and Science, many moons ago. I helped design exhibits, made trips to carry animals to and from different locations in NC (a raptor center, a wildlife rehab lab, an aquarium, etc.), designed newsletters and signage, raised and taught about animals (I even once raised a hummingbird), and generally enjoyed every moment I worked there.

The Museum had two beautiful reticulated pythons. The most sweet-natured was named Joey and we took her to all the educational events for the children to experience. She was easy to carry around (her main handler could lift her, although it was easier with two people), seemed to enjoy car rides, moved slowly, and was endlessly tolerant of loud and rowdy children.

But on one memorable occasion when her feeder was putting the (live) rabbits in the pythons’ environment, Joey got bitten by her very irritable roommate, who on this particular day seemed to think there weren’t enough rabbits for both of them. Seeing one angry 14 foot python suddenly strike another from across a room is a life-changing experience.

When the bite became infected, we didn’t exactly want to load a hurting Joey up and carry her to the vet’s office, so he came to us. When we learned that the wound needed debridement (i.e, a scraping away of all the decayed flesh) we set up a makeshift surgery table and called in the troops. Several strong men held Joey still and kept her jaws clamped shut while the vet did his work. He asked me to hold a powerful light right next to the wound, which was near Joey’s head. I can remember hearing her slow breathing: iiiiinnnnn, then a long frustrated hisssssssssss. I glanced nervously at the main handler holding her jaws, but he was sweating and sending intense “hurry the hell up” vibes to the vet, who was certainly not dallying. “Can you hold that steady, please,” I remember him saying to me as I shook and tried not to wet my pants.

The wound was scraped clean and (possibly? I can’t recall) sewn shut. I marveled at the hardness of Joey’s scales and the warmth of her body. She was one long muscle. Probably one long aching muscle, the next day.

It was one of the most interesting and unusual experiences I’ve ever had; I wouldn’t trade it for a Baltimore News Babe Ruth or a Honus Wagner rookie card.

‘Course, I’ve never been much for baseball.

Image by ervinmw

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2 Responses to Python Surgery

  1. Critter October 13, 2009 at 11:00 am #

    Great story. I’ve never been that big of a fan of retics, but love burmese… Amazing animals…

  2. Sine Botchen October 13, 2009 at 12:23 pm #

    Wow! What fun! Most definitely one for the books.. you’d make former co-worker/freelance herpetologist Mitch Sanders proud.

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